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Axiomatic and Economic Approaches to Elementary Price Indexes

  • W. Erwin Diewert

In a 1993 paper, Marshall Reinsdorf finds that the CPI components for food and gas were biased upward by about 2% and 1% per year respectively during the 1980s. He attributes this result to outlet substitution bias. The more recent paper by Reinsdorf and Moulton [1994] presents an alternative explanation for Reinsdorf's earlier results: when the BLS moved to probability sampling of prices in 1978, the micro price quotations were aggregated together using an index number formula that generates an upward bias. This paper further explores the central theoretical issue raised by the Reinsdorf-Moulton paper: the choice of an index number formula to aggregate prices at the finest level of disaggregation. This issue is examined from both axiomatic and economic perspectives. This paper also reviews the empirical literature on alternative elementary price indexes, and the recent literature on sources of bias in consumer price indexes. The findings of this paper in conjunction with the empirical work of Reinsdorf and Moulton yield a number of recommendations for Statistical Agencies which are outlined in the final section.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5104.

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Date of creation: May 1995
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as W. Erwin Diewert, 1999. "Axiomatic and Economic Approaches to International Comparisons," NBER Chapters, in: International and Interarea Comparisons of Income, Output, and Prices, pages 13-107 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5104
Note: PR
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  1. Blackorby, Charles & Donaldson, David, 1980. "A Theoretical Treatment of Indices of Absolute Inequality," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 21(1), pages 107-36, February.
  2. Robert B. Archibald, 1977. "On the Theory of Industrial Price Measurement Output Price Indexes," NBER Chapters, in: Annals of Economic and Social Measurement, Volume 6, number 1, pages 57-72 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Berndt, Ernst R & Griliches, Zvi & Rosett, Joshua G, 1993. "Auditing the Producer Price Index: Micro Evidence from Prescription Pharamceutical Preparations," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 11(3), pages 251-64, July.
  4. Balk, Bert M, 1990. "On Calculating Cost-of-Living Index Numbers for Arbitrary Income Levels," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(1), pages 75-92, January.
  5. Sidney N. Afriat, 1972. "The Theory of International Comparisons of Real Income and Prices," NBER Chapters, in: International Comparisons of Prices and Output, pages 13-84 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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